Dick Cavett Show, The (1969-1974)

There have been quite a few programs called The Dick Cavett Show but with the exception of one ill-fated attempt at variety, they were all pretty much the same: Cavett sitting around, talking to interesting people. Cavett had previously worked as a writer for both Jack Paar and Johnny Carson, and he seemed to have absorbed the better qualities of each without the worst. He had Paar’s love of conversation but not the same penchant for feuds and self-pity, and he had Carson’s comic instincts without the occasional leering qualities. On the downside, he sometimes had an “I’m smarter than you” attitude that alienated some viewers and there was often the subtext of, “Look at all the famous people I hang out with.” Neither was fatal and on the whole, Mr. Cavett did a very fine show.

It’s unfortunately lumped in with the long list of talk shows that tried to compete with Johnny and failed, and some of the articles about Cavett make it sound like he was in and out of the time slot in thirteen weeks or less. He was actually on for almost five years which, given how highly competitive it was to be on then at 11:30, is quite an accomplishment. The show was also critically-acclaimed and won awards at a time when that could be said of very little on ABC.

In 1973, ABC was enjoying some ratings success in prime-time and the execs there became infatuated with the idea that they could also win in late night. They began monkeying with the 11:30 slot, moving Cavett into a rotating format that performed worse than what it replaced. The other main component of this round-robin was Jack Paar Tonite, which failed and took Cavett’s show with it, which was our loss. Cavett went on to other, similar shows in other venues.

The above ticket says the show was done from something called TV-15. It was one of those theaters in New York that changed names and functions from year to year. It started life as the John Golden Theater in 1926 and was the Elysee the last time it housed plays. Dozens of different TV shows (including one of Merv Griffin’s) were done there in the fifties and sixties. Not long after Cavett vacated, it was turned into a church (which it had been occasionally before) and it was finally demolished in 1985.